The rush for shale gas in Pennsylvania, unhindered in the absence of regulatory burdens under Governor Tom Corbett’s administration, continues to provide fodder for skeptics in New York.
Greg Ball, a 35-year-old Republican senator from Carmel, is the latest New York state politician to hold Pennsylvania up as an example of how to botch shale gas development. Today Ball is schedule to meet with residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania who claim water and property have been degraded by shale gas development. The meeting is a backdrop for the senator’s push for a one-year ban on hydraulic fracturing in New York.
Ball said he believes the shale gas development can help New York’s economy, but not the way it is unfolding in Pennsylvania. In a recent Town Hall meeting in Milan, Ball explained the challenge of getting to the bottom of the rhetoric that typifies the debate about the merit of hydraulic fracturing. “The industry will tell me one thing – ‘you can drink the fracking fluid – don’t worry about it, there are no issues whatsoever. And those 20 cows that died? That was just a mistake, that really never happens ‘… And you have the anti-frackers who say there are four-headed fish and they are walking down the streets and its Armageddon.”
To sort fact from fiction, Ball took a field trip to several northern Pennsylvania communities. He found no four-headed fish, but he said he did learn of eight of 11 calves that were stillborn from livestock that had been grazing around unfenced waste impoundments and a spill site. “If you farm, you know that doesn’t make sense,” Ball said. “You might have two or three, if it’s bad.” During his trip, Ball also listened to some residents relate how their property values diminished without corresponding gains from royalties and leases. “We cannot allow this happen in New York,” he said. “We know there are some bad things that can happen with industrial activity. But to lay out the red carpet, and to welcome some of this stuff and to have no regulation, we can’t allow that.”
Ball, a retired Air Force captain, was not yet 30 years old when he defeated six-term incumbent Willis Stephens in a primary in September 2006, running on a platform of legislative reform, environmental protection, and sustainable energy. His Legislative District 40 includes a region, east of Poughkeepsie extending along New York’s border with Massachusetts. While Ball joins a body of lawmakers ready to use legislative tools if necessary to delay shale gas development in New York, there are others who are eager for it to proceed. They include Senator Tom Libous, a ranking Republican whose district in Broome County sits over one of the most promising sections of the Marcellus and Utica shales. Libous has publically chided leaders from other parts of the state for discouraging shale gas development that he sees as the solution to his district’s economic problems.
Pennsylvania State government leaders, including Corbett, won seats in the 2010 election promising big economic returns by promoting the promise of shale gas development and have by in large been reluctant to pass legislation to tax and regulate the industry. Pennsylvania residents who are unhappy about the gas rush, meanwhile, are getting more sympathy from New York State lawmakers than they are from their Pennsylvania counterparts. In December 2009, New York Senator Antoine Thompson, then chair of the New York State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, visited Dimock residents as part of a fact-finding tour similar to Ball’s. In 2010, Thompson introduced a bill that would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York until the following May. The bill, which passed, had no practical influence on Marcellus development because permitting could not begin anyway until the New York DEC completed a review of the environmental impacts of shale gas development and updated permitting guidelines, and that endeavor was not due until well after the legislative ban was scheduled to expire. But the bill showed that state lawmakers were not ready to embrace shale gas development at the time and they could summon votes to resist it.
The same may be true of Ball’s call for a one-year ban. New York has no money in the next budget cycle to add staff to regulate shale gas, and Governor Cuomo suggested that more staff would be unnecessary until the state works out its regulatory policy. That might take a while in the face of well-organized opposition to fracking. The DEC has to respond to 40,000 comments filed on its latest draft of the regulatory proposal before it is finalized.